Safe As Houses

Safe As Houses

Mass Market Paperback | January 6, 2009

byEric Walters

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The date is October 15, 1954. Thirteen-year-old Elizabeth, who lives in the Toronto suburb of Weston, is a typical grade 8 girl. She has a secret crush on a boy in her class and she thinks Elvis Presley is "dreamy." Elizabeth also has a part-time job babysitting an adorable little grade 2 girl named Suzie, and Suzie’s not-so-adorable grade 6 brother, David. Elizabeth’s job is to walk Suzie and David home after school and then stay at their house with them until their mother gets home from work. David resents Elizabeth because he thinks he is too old for a babysitter, and he goes out of his way to make life miserable for her.

On this particular evening, however, Elizabeth has more than a badly behaved boy to contend with. It is on this October night that Hurricane Hazel roars down on Toronto, bringing torrential rains that cause extensive flooding. David and Suzie’s house is on Raymore Drive, a street that will be practically wiped out by the floodwaters.

David and Suzie’s parents are unable to reach the house, which means the children’s safety on this most deadly of nights is Elizabeth’s responsibility. She finds herself increasingly isolated. They are surrounded by rising water. The electricity goes out. The phone goes dead. Still, Elizabeth is sure they will be safe as long as they remain in the house.

But are Elizabeth and the children really as "safe as houses"? Before this terrifying night is over, Elizabeth and David will have to learn to communicate and cooperate if they are to save their own lives and Suzie’s. Their survival in the midst of one of Canada’s worst disasters will depend upon their resourcefulness, maturity and courage.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Safe As Houses

Mass Market Paperback | January 6, 2009
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From the Publisher

The date is October 15, 1954. Thirteen-year-old Elizabeth, who lives in the Toronto suburb of Weston, is a typical grade 8 girl. She has a secret crush on a boy in her class and she thinks Elvis Presley is "dreamy." Elizabeth also has a part-time job babysitting an adorable little grade 2 girl named Suzie, and Suzie’s not-so-adorable...

Eric Walters published his first novel, Stand Your Ground, in 1993, and has since become one of Canada’s best known and most prolific writers of literature for children and young adults. He has had 39 novels published, including Safe as Houses. Eric’s books are available in places as far away as Australia and New Zealand, and have been...

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Format:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:176 pages, 6.85 × 4.15 × 0.46 inPublished:January 6, 2009Publisher:PRH Canada Young ReadersLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:140002529X

ISBN - 13:9781400025299

Appropriate for ages: 9 - 12

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chapter one–Suzie and I huddled beneath the umbrella. It gave us at least some protection from the rain that had been coming down in buckets all day. The whole schoolyard was filled with kids bobbing about under umbrellas or in bright yellow slickers. A few of the boys from my Grade 8 class just turned up the collars of their denim jackets, like the rain wasn’t any great inconvenience. They were too busy trying to look cool to even attempt to stay dry. Most of them were all wet even when it wasn’t raining . . . although a few of them were cool even without the jacket. I looked around. I was waiting for Suzie’s brother David, but I was hoping to catch sight of Donnie Davis. He was nowhere to be seen. Too bad.Almost everybody was rushing to get away from the rain and home or to a friend’s house. All my friends were going over to Debbie’s to listen to some 45s on her new record player. Debbie had all the new songs–“Shake, Rattle and Roll” by Bill Haley, both versions of “Sh-­Boom,” by the Chords and by the Crew-Cuts, and “That’s All Right” by Elvis Presley . . . Elvis was so dreamy . . . he would have been my favourite even if he couldn’t sing.I sighed. I hadn’t even been invited. Everybody knew there was no point. I couldn’t go, and asking me would have been cruel. Instead I was standing here, my saddle shoes soaked through, waiting. Couldn’t David ever get here on time?Suzie was pressed close against my leg, dressed in her little yellow raincoat and matching hat. It wouldn’t have been nearly so dreadful if I were just babysitting her every night after school. She was a nice, sweet, friendly little Grade 2 kid. Nothing like her brother at all.“How about if we just leave him here this time?” I asked.Suzie giggled. We’d talked about this before. It was something we’d both have loved to do, but of course we couldn’t. I was responsible for her brother as well, even if he didn’t like it. I had to admit–­at least to myself–­that I understood why he felt he didn’t need a sitter. He was in Grade 6 and should have been able to take care of himself. But his parents didn’t trust him to watch out for Suzie, so I was in charge of both of them. I looked at my watch–­it was almost ­three-­thirty. School had let out over ten minutes ago. That meant he wasn’t just dawdling–­he had a detention. David had to stay after class at least three times a week. Sometimes it was because he hadn’t finished his work. Sometimes it was because of his behaviour. That boy just didn’t like to be told what to do, and he loved to argue about why he shouldn’t. I was tired of having those arguments with him. I could only imagine how much he must have annoyed the poor teacher who was stuck with him all day.“Did he get in this much trouble at your old school?” I asked Suzie.“Not as much,” she replied.They had moved to our neighbourhood this past summer. Mr. McBride had bought some land by the river. It seemed as though there were new houses going up there all the time. My father said they were “springing up like mushrooms.” This was the third straight day of rain, so if what he was saying was true I guessed I could expect to see a dozen more there tomorrow.Our house sat up on the hill overlooking the valley. I could see all those new houses from my bedroom window. Some seemed to go up all at once, started and finished in a few weeks. Others were ongoing projects, built little by little while the owners lived in them. That was the case with the McBrides’ house. They had had the outside shell built for them–­foundation, walls, roof, electrical, and plumbing–but then it was up to Mr. McBride to finish the inside. He was an accountant. I hoped he was better with numbers than he was with a hammer and saw because the work was going pretty slowly, and even I could tell that it wasn’t being done particularly well.“Here he comes,” Suzie said.David came out of the front doors. He didn’t seem to be in any kind of hurry. He sort of swaggered toward us. He was carrying his school bag slung over one shoulder and he wasn’t wearing a raincoat. I knew he had probably been sent to school in one this morning, so either he’d left it on a hook in his cubby or it was stuffed inside his bag. I could have asked him, but what was the point? It would only have led to an argument, and it wasn’t as if I could physically force him to wear it.“I’m not putting it on,” he said defiantly, as if he were reading my mind.Apparently he wanted an argument. Big surprise.“Not putting on what?” I asked innocently.“My raincoat. I have one, but I’m not going to wear it.”“What do I care?” I asked. “It’s not me who’s going to get soaked to the bone.”I took Suzie’s hand and spun around, starting to walk away before he had a chance to react.He scrambled to catch us. “My mother would want me to wear it.”“Then maybe you should.”“Are you telling me I have to?” he demanded.“I’m not telling you anything.”“But you should,” he argued. “That’s your job, to make me do things that I don’t want to do. You’re the babysitter, aren’t you supposed to make me do things, or at least try to make me do things?” He was really trying to get into it.“They don’t pay me enough to do that. Wear it or don’t wear it. I don’t care. Although your mother probably will when I tell her that you didn’t wear it.”“You’re going to tattle on me?”“No, I’m not going to tattle. That would be so childish. I’m going to report to your mother. That’s one of the things that babysitters do, tell the parents what their children did. She won’t be happy.”“You’d better not tell her. She’ll be just as mad at you for not making me put it on.”I shrugged. “Maybe she’ll be so angry she’ll even fire me.”“She might,” he said smugly.“And then she’ll hire somebody else.”“Couldn’t be anybody worse than the sitter we have.”“And you’d have a long, long time to learn to like her, because she’d probably be your sitter for the whole school year . . . maybe all of next summer.”“No way! We’re only having a sitter until my birthday in January. Mom promised.”“She promised that it would only be to January if you proved you were responsible. Do you think it’s responsible to have a detention after school, to not put on your raincoat, to fight with your sitter?”He started to say something but stopped himself. I had him, and he knew it. He didn’t want a babysitter now, but what he really didn’t want was to put up with a sitter for any longer than necessary. The way out involved co-operating–­unfortunately, not something that David was good at. At this rate, he might have a babysitter right through high school, and until he was married. Then his wife could be in charge.David dropped back. I looked over my shoulder. He had put down his school bag and was pulling out his raincoat. I allowed myself a smile.“I like having you as a babysitter,” Suzie said.“And I like being your babysitter.”We came to a stop at Weston Road. There were cars splashing along in both directions and we backed away from the road to avoid being sprayed. I squeezed Suzie’s hand. We’d just wait for a big gap before we crossed and–David stepped onto the road! He dodged one car and then sprinted the rest of the way, reaching the safety of the sidewalk just before a truck rumbled by.I waited for the light to change down the block at the corner so that our stretch of road would be free of traffic. Carefully I led Suzie across.“You should be more careful of traffic,” I warned him.“You call this traffic?” he asked. “Traffic is what we have in Toronto, not up here in the sticks.”David was always making fun of Weston. He acted like it was a million miles north of the city instead of a thirty-minute car ride. I knew it wasn’t the city, but it was a pretty big town and a really nice place to live. I liked Toronto, but I didn’t really want to live there. I guess the way David didn’t want to live here.We turned onto my street, Hickory Tree Road. My house wasn’t far ahead, just where the street curved, but we were heading to the McBride house, down the valley and across the Humber River. Their house was almost exactly twice as far from school as my house, a twenty­minute walk instead of just under ten. Twice as long was twelve times as miserable when the weather was like this. Thank goodness I wouldn’t be walking with them all through the winter.The road followed the lip of the valley, overlooking trees and grass and river. With all the rain, the Humber was brown and angry and wider than usual. It had burst its banks and was spreading out onto the flats. That wasn’t so unusual during the spring floods, but it was strange to see it happen in the fall.My house was just up ahead. I would have loved to have gone inside. I could have changed my clothes and dried my hair. Mom would have made me a snack and a hot cup of tea, or maybe hot chocolate. I knew I could have hot chocolate when we got to the McBrides’ but it would be me fixing it for all of us. It always tasted better when somebody else made it. Actually, it tasted best when my mom made it.I looked up. Mom was standing in the window. She was always there, each day, as we passed. I knew she was just worried–­she was a worrier by nature–­but it still felt as though she was spying on me, like she didn’t trust me. It was embarrassing to have your mommy standing over you, watching and–­she waved and smiled. I waved back weakly and gave her a little smile in return.It was always such a strange thing to just walk past my house as though it didn’t belong to me. I guess after six weeks I should have been getting used to it, but I wasn’t. By January it might be different. Part of me would miss the money, but it would be nice to have my time back again. Time to spend with friends, or do my homework, or just not be responsible for two children. It was only a couple of hours each night, but sometimes the time really dragged. Funny how slowly time moves when you want to be someplace else.This job sort of fell into my lap. My father runs a garage, and he had fixed Mr. McBride’s car. He’d mentioned to my father that they needed a sitter every night for a couple of hours, from the time school dismissed until he and his wife arrived home, usually around six. It would only be for a few months, until David was older and able to look out for both himself and his sister. My father volunteered me, and when they offered me the job I jumped. I’ve always liked kids. I thought someday I might want to be a teacher. It was good to have my own money. I had my eye on a new record player like Donna’s.I had to walk them home from school, get them a snack, help Suzie with her homework, and, in the words of Mr. McBride, “try to stop David from doing anything too stupid.” That last one was the real work. He was very creative in finding new and exciting ways to cause me trouble. After six weeks of taking care of him, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to ever have children–­at least not boys.I also tried to straighten up the house a little every night. I’d wash the snack dishes, and the breakfast ones if they hadn’t been done. In all the disorder of a house being constructed I needed to find some order. Once they’d had their snack and Suzie had done her homework, we’d sit on the chesterfield and turn on the television. The McBrides had the biggest television I had ever seen. Not that I’d seen too many–­only a few of my friends had one–­but their set was huge. It sat on the floor in a big, solid wooden cabinet with four legs. The screen had to be fifteen inches across, and the reception was so much better than on other sets. When the weather was good the picture was so clear that the faces were like you were looking right at the real person. If, that is, the real person was black and white and grey.There was only one thing wrong with their television. Because their house sat at the bottom of the valley the only signal they could get was the CBC station from Toronto. They couldn’t get either of the Buffalo stations which meant they didn’t get any of the top American shows, as David constantly complained–another lousy thing about living in Weston. For me, one station was better than none, and that’s what I got at home. We didn’t have a television, and I didn’t know if there was one in my immediate future.While Mr. McBride hadn’t yet attached the kitchen cupboards, he had just installed a big antenna on the roof of the house. Of course, true to form, he hadn’t actually run a wire down and hooked it up to the television yet, but when he did he hoped to get those extra stations. But my father said that unless the antenna was higher than the sides of the valley he wouldn’t be getting any new stations.We got to a long set of wooden steps that led down the hill toward the river. They were wet and slick and slippery, and I held Suzie’s hand even tighter. At the bottom we started along the gravel footpath. It was slightly elevated, and that rise put us above the surrounding grass, which was now more like a series of big puddles, so numerous and large that they were almost linking together into a shallow lake, an inch or so deep. There had been so much rain that it couldn’t soak in or run off, it was just pooling up.By the time we came to the footbridge that crossed the Humber the noise of the river had risen to a roar. The water raced by, brown and foamy and angry. Caught in its flow were tree branches, bobbing and bouncing along in the current. Some of the larger branches were now jammed into the underside of the bridge, trapping other garbage that had fallen in.Suzie slowed down as we got closer to the river. She was always nervous around the bridge. She didn’t like crossing it. Today I wasn’t so crazy about it myself, even though it was a big, solid, wood-and-metal construction with high railings on the sides, anchored at both ends in gigantic concrete pilings. It was safe and secure, and there was nothing to worry about. My brain knew that. I just wished my stomach didn’t have so many questions.“So, what did you do in school today?” I asked Suzie as we started across, to take her mind off the rushing water below.“We had a spelling bee, practising the words for the test on Monday.”“I hate spelling bees,” I said.Actually, what I really hated was the strange feeling in my stomach as the water rushed underneath our feet. I could just see it through the narrow cracks between the planks. It made me feel like I was being pushed sideways.“I like spelling bees because I win a lot,” Suzie said.“Maybe that explains why I don’t like them.”With each step toward the middle the roar of the water got louder, and Suzie’s hold on my hand got stronger. For a little kid, she had one strong grip.From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

"Vintage Walters...the adventure just doesn't stop." –

"A suspense-filled story of how three resourceful children trapped alone in a house manage to survive the terrible night." –Winnipeg Free Press

From the Trade Paperback edition.